SportsPulse: Bob Nightengale breaks down what makes Cleveland’s winning streak so special, and how the Dodgers’ struggles could prove costly.
USA Today Sports
SAN FRANCISCO — Latin music played over the loudspeakers in the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse before Tuesday night’s game, courtesy of closer Kenley Jansen. In the dugout, manager Dave Roberts displayed an upbeat attitude as he entertained the news media with a story about franchise icon Tom Lasorda.
Perhaps the Dodgers were determined not to show the weight of the puzzling 11-game losing streak that had shaken their fans’ faith and cut their 21-game lead in the National League West in less than half.
More likely, they drew comfort from knowing Clayton Kershaw was taking the mound against the San Francisco Giants.
Kershaw, who notched the only victory in L.A.’s 1-16 stretch coming in, held the Giants in check over six innings and benefited from a couple of excellent defensive plays as the Dodgers held on for a 5-3 victory to end the longest slide in their Los Angeles history.
If not the vintage Kershaw who had fashioned a 20-9 record with a 1.62 ERA over his career against San Francisco, Tuesday’s version was good enough to help the Dodgers trim their magic number to eight and boost their division lead back to 10. They also officially secured a postseason spot while extending to 4 ½ games their margin over the Washington Nationals for the best record in the NL and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
“Nothing about these past two weeks has been easy, so we shouldn’t have expected this one to be easy,’’ said Kershaw, who allowed eight hits and two runs, one earned. “I wasn’t very good at times tonight and my defense picked me up, and our offense wasn’t very good tonight and they picked it up too. … We needed everybody to get a win tonight and it took just about everybody.’’
Kershaw contributed to a four-run rally in the fourth that put Los Angeles ahead to stay and knocked out San Francisco starter Johnny Cueto.
After Chase Utley led off the inning with a homer that tied the game 1-1, Kershaw sliced a drive that left fielder Austin Slater misplayed into a double. He later scored on a Corey Seager sacrifice fly before Yasiel Puig’s two-run double capped the uprising.
The L.A. defenders kept the lead in place in the bottom half as third baseman Justin Turner and first baseman Cody Bellinger combined on a terrific play to retire Slater after a leadoff double by Nick Hundley. The catcher was then thrown out at home trying to score on a single, as center fielder Chris Taylor made a perfect throw on the fly.
The last-place Giants have played L.A. tough all year, splitting the first 14 games of the season series, and this one would be no exception. San Francisco cut the deficit to 4-2 in the sixth and loaded the bases with two outs before Kershaw struck out pinch-hitter Tim Federowicz with his 91st and final pitch of the game, exulting as the former Dodgers catcher swung through a curveball.
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“It’s a weird thing for this game to have the significance it had for us. More of a sense of relief now that we got a win,’’ Kershaw said after Los Angeles improved to 93-52, two more wins than it notched in claiming the division crown last year. “We can’t obviously let up, but every time the losses keep mounting and mounting, it gets that much harder to win a game.’’
Tuesday’s solid overall effort in all facets of the game — Jansen capped three one-run innings from the bullpen by getting the last four outs for his 37th save — was reflective of the brand of baseball the Dodgers had played in building an astonishing 91-36 record and becoming World Series favorites.
But that quality of play was nowhere to be found during the dreadful 17-game spell, as the Dodgers’ offense averaged 2.6 runs, the starters’ ERA ballooned over 6.00 and the relievers often faltered, especially setup man Pedro Baez.
Before the game, Jansen and Baez exhorted each other in the clubhouse, repeatedly saying the skid was about to end, needed to end.
It didn’t come easy. Jansen had to pitch out of a bases-loaded situation in the ninth, striking out Buster Posey and Nick Hundley, but finally slayed the beast.
“I just told myself we’re not going to go home tonight and hang our heads again,’’ Jansen said. “We’ve got to stop this. Luckily I got out of it.’’